K'Nex expecting reborn Tinkertoy to charm tots, nostalgic parents

Julie Pavelich

Published: February 22, 2012 6:00 am ET

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Topics Consumer Products, Injection Molding

NEW YORK (Feb. 22, 2:50 p.m. ET) — K’Nex, a maker of innovative toy construction sets, has teamed up with Hasbro Inc. to reinvent the Tinkertoy, known for providing generations of children with hours of building fun.

“We realized how much people through the years have loved Tinkertoy and how it fosters open-ended, imaginative play,” said Michael Araten, president of K’Nex Brands LP and its sister company, Rodon Group, a custom injection molder.

For years, K’Nex has created construction sets, including roller coasters and many others, for children 6 and older. But a few years ago, the company recognized that younger children might want to build similar items but would need fewer pieces and bigger parts. “Tinkertoy was appealing to us for this reason,” Araten said in a phone interview.

In the same way that K’Nex partnered with Hasbro in 1999 to market the classic wood toy Lincoln Logs, the two companies recently announced the licensing partnership for K’Nex to produce the modern-day, primarily polypropylene Tinkertoy.

“We thought this was a nice combination — to now offer two nostalgic toys,” he said.

K’Nex presented the new Tinkertoy at the American International Toy Fair, held Feb. 12-15 in New York.

“We had a ton of favorable reaction,” he said, noting that it is pleasing to children and to adults who played with the Tinkertoy themselves as children. “When you take classic toys and put a fresh spin on them, you get the best of both worlds.”

Joe Keane, Hasbro’s vice president of global brand licensing and publishing, also said he believes the revitalized Tinkertoy will be a hit with adults and children.

“Since its introduction in 1913, the Tinkertoy brand has driven the imaginations of children for generations, proving that fun and stimulating toys never lose their appeal,” Keane said.

“The Tinkertoy brand has continued to evolve to keep with consumer expectations, and we believe that K’Nex is the right licensee to evolve that brand further.”

The licensing agreement with Hasbro gives K’Nex the right to develop the product, Araten said, explaining that “we can design, build, market and distribute it.”

Hasbro’s Playskool division will get a royalty for rights to the Tinkertoy name, Araten said, noting the two companies have been in talks for two to three years and agreed on the deal about a year ago.

Neither Araten nor Keane would disclose specifics of the agreement.

“We are excited to be working with K’Nex,” Keane said. “Licensing is a great mechanism to align our core brands with category experts like K’Nex.”

The new products will snap together and stay together so kids can play with their creations once they build them. They will be geared for children ages 3-5.

Two versions being promoted now are the 75-piece Animal Building Set with a suggested retail price of $27.99, and the 150-piece Train Building Set, which sells for $43.99, according to K’Nex.

There will be some exclusive lines also, including ones for Toys R Us, so in total there will be at least four other sets at stores by fall, with more perhaps down the road, Araten said.

“Tinkertoy was a seven-figure investment to launch the brand,” he said. “But we expect to get a long-term deal. There are plans on the table for new themes and designs for the coming years.”

Since the Tinkertoy sets will be built almost entirely at K’Nex’s plant in Hatfield, Pa., that investment included purchasing additional robotics and 11-12 new molds to make the plastic parts, Araten said. The plant’s existing core molding machines will be used to manufacture the pieces with the addition of the new molds and robotics, he said.

“There has been a lot of discussion, research and work — and a lot of overtime,” he said, adding that K’Nex’s workforce has grown since 2008 due to the success of its toys and to prepare for future projects like Tinkertoy. “I can’t say it’s specifically for Tinkertoy, but we have hired over the last three years.”

The Tinkertoy construction set was first created in 1913 by Charles Pajeau and Robert Pettit after Pajeau saw children play with pencils and empty spools of thread. The first sets had wood sticks and spools. In time, the spools and other pieces were made of plastic. In 1998, Tinkertoy was named to the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Hasbro has owned the rights to Tinkertoy since 1985 and produces plastic and wood sets currently on store shelves in certain mass-market areas, Keane said. He said the new product will keep the features that have made Tinkertoy popular for years.

“Preschool construction consumers will still enjoy the open-ended construction play pattern that Tinkertoy has always been known for,” Keane said. “In addition, K’Nex will be introducing an entire cast of buildable pals and pets helping to bring building and role-play together into one perfect play pattern.”

The new sets will be entirely plastic, and 95 percent of the product will be made in the U.S. at K’Nex’s manufacturing site, according to Araten.

“We will have to import a couple of parts from overseas, but all will be plastic,” he said, noting the toys will be available first in the U.S. and Canada by fall — online and in specialty stores, as well as all of the large toy stores and big-box stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart. In 2013, K’Nex plans to market the Tinkertoy in Europe.

“The Tinkertoy brand has appealed to generations of children who love to build,” Keane said. “K’Nex is a leader in the construction category and will expand the brand into key specialty distribution, where we know that moms who are looking for classic brands shop.”


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K'Nex expecting reborn Tinkertoy to charm tots, nostalgic parents

Julie Pavelich

Published: February 22, 2012 6:00 am ET

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